Welcome back to the Hostile Takeover podcast. Today, we’ll be talking about one of the many illegal strategies that the Board of Mason Classical Academy has used to help retain control of this school.
But first, I want to remind all of our listeners that there is a Collier County Public School Board Virtual Meeting this afternoon, June 9th.
This meeting may be very important to the future of MCA, as it is expected that the Board will discuss the information presented by the school district’s counsel, Jon Fishbane that includes the most recent violations and possibly detail a roadmap to the next action the Board may need to take, in order to deal with the school’s endless list of crimes.
If you’ve listened to any of our previous episodes, you know that the information we have shared with you regarding this school’s actions is quite shocking.
But, we haven’t even scratched the surface yet on all their shady and illegal activities.
In today’s episode, we’ll talk a little bit about the sunshine laws and why they were enacted. Then we’ll discuss the Phantom Lawsuit that MCA illegally kept from the public and why this is such a big deal.
But first, I want to thank everyone again for listening to this podcast. We’ve been growing our audience exponentially every week and we’re starting to pull in listeners from throughout the country. If you haven’t subscribed to our updates yet, go on over to roguecastaways.com and hit the subscribe button. Now…..The Phantom Lawsuit.
The State of Florida, like every other state in the Union, has laws that require public agencies and organizations, including schools, to operate in the “sunshine”. What does this mean? In general, the law requires that any organization subject to the sunshine laws must operate openly and not restrict its citizens from being able to view the organizations documents and activities.
This law harkens back to when the crafters of the U. S. Constitution were lobbying for ratification by publishing the “The Federalist Papers”. In Federalist No. 49, James Madison, argued that, “…the people are the only legitimate foundation of power, and it is from them that the constitutional charter … is derived.’
The sunshine laws are meant to protect the people from the government acting outside the view of the people.
THIS is a big issue for Mason Classical Academy because so much of what they have done, they have done in secret and to keep the public from knowing what actions they were taking at any given time. David Hull confirmed this strategy to me in a phone call back in 2017. He had actively concealed information about an incident in which a teacher had taped a student’s mouth in order to keep them quiet. He justified hiding the information by saying that the school was constantly under attack and they had to do everything they could to keep the public from hearing about these issues because they were being treated unfairly by so many.
I eventually followed up with an email to him telling him that if he had released a statement about the action they took immediately after they found out about the incident that it would have actually made the school look good in the eyes of the media because they were quick and decisive in deciding to end this teacher’s employment. Hull’s response? He plagiarized my email word-for-word and released the statement to the public that day.
It’s this kind of unethical behavior that has put MCA in the spotlight more than anything else.
Back to the sunshine laws….
Under these laws, a school Board may not meet outside a board meeting that has been announced to the public, so that the public may attend and listen to the activities of the organization. The Board members may not have any discussions outside a publicly announced board meeting, as they would be considered violating the sunshine laws. The discussion rules apply to face-to-face meetings, phone calls, chat rooms, emails and any other communication method that you can think of.
A common trick that MCA has employed to try and avoid violating the sunshine laws has been to have David Hull act as the messenger. He would approach members before board meetings and instruct them how to vote, he would provide them direction on what they would say.
He recruited one Board member by coming to their house and asking that person to join the board.
The person asked whether it was him or his wife that they wanted to join….Hull said it didn’t matter because that person would always vote the same as Kelly Licther, without deviation, period, end of story.
There is an exception to the meeting in public rule though. In the case of discussion of strategy or a decision on how to proceed on a lawsuit, as either a plaintiff or a defendant, the Board may meet privately with the board attorney and discuss the lawsuit details related to that lawsuit ONLY.
The process of conducting this meeting ‘in the shade’ was laid out in an Advisory Opinion from the Senior Assistant Attorney General for Florida in 2014. Gerry Hammond, the Senior Asst AG wrote that the organization’s attorney must advise the Board at a public meeting that he or she wishes to receive advice regarding the litigation.
The board members and attorney may then leave and meet in private, with a court reporter recording the entire session.
The organization must give appropriate public notice of the time and date of the session and the names of everyone in attendance.
The transcript shall be made part of the public record upon conclusion of the litigation.
So…..Why are we talking about this now?
In November of 2016, a former teacher at Mason Classical Academy, Iliana San Martin, filed a lawsuit against the school for Breach of Agreement for ‘failing to pay’ Ms. San Martin for salary amounts she said she was due when she left her employment at MCA….and for defamation when MCA employees or agents defamed Ms. San Martin with prospective employers.
The actual details of the lawsuit are not that relevant as it was how the lawsuit was handled that was the problem. What is relevant is that no decision or action or strategy or anything about the lawsuit was ever discussed at a Mason Classical Academy Board Meeting.
Initially, Ms. San Martin’s attorney sent a demand letter to the school for the back pay and for MCA to respond to her other complaints.
The school’s general counsel at the time, Shawn Arnold, was emailed the demand letter by Susan Turner and communicated with David Hull, Kelly Lichter, Susan Turner, and Chuck Marshall regarding the complaint, but not once did they ever discuss the demand letter or the eventual lawsuit in the ‘sunshine’ at an MCA Board Meeting. There is NO RECORD WHATSOEVER regarding this action in an MCA Agenda or in the MCA Minutes.
We will upload the emails this week and you will find that Mr. Arnold presents the strategy of responding to the demands and asks for specific documentation from David Hull, but they never discuss voting at a meeting regarding the school’s respons. In fact, he provides the suggested response to David Hull for approval, to which Mr. Hull responds, “Looks fantastic to me. Thank you!”
When Ms. San Martin eventually files a lawsuit, David Hull once again takes point on proceeding with document production.
Who voted David Hull the MCA representative to manage the activities associated with this lawsuit? There’s no record and no vote of the Board ever taking that action.
Yet, Kelly Mason Lichter is copied on all of these emails and asks questions throughout the process.
Kelly Lichter provided a signed affidavit about the nature of the school to include in a Motion to Dismiss by Mr. Arnold. But, when was she voted the representative to sign this affidavit?
It is not without some degree of irony that the affidavit actually states that, ‘The Governing Board of Mason Classical Academy, although a not for profit company, is governed by the same code of ethics as the Collier County School District and Florida’s Public Records Act and is required by Florida Law and the School’s Charter Contract to abide by both because Mason Classical Academy is a public school.’
Looking through public records on how the suit proceeded, there is a record of MCA receiving a settlement offer from Ms. San Martin. However, there was no Board meeting, in the sunshine, nor any announcement of any Board meeting in the shade to discuss her offer.
There’s also a record of MCA making their own settlement offer to Ms. San Martin. Once again, no public meeting to make an offer or notification of a shade meeting to discuss the offer that MCA was going to make.
There’s a motion by Shawn Arnold during the case requesting an extension of time stating that he was meeting with the ‘client’ in February 2017 regarding the case, but there is never any agenda or meeting minutes regarding the meeting. The ‘client’ he refers to is the school which is represented by the MCA Board, but there’s no record of a Board Meeting in which Shawn Arnold discusses the suit in the sunshine or the shade.
Is this Arnold’s fault or is this MCA’s fault? Well of course, MCA is going to blame their attorney, as that is a typical strategy when they are caught red handed. They know that no attorney, current or prior, will call them out for lying about what they did or did not tell their client. According to the MCA Board, the attorneys are the only reason mistakes are ever made.
But, the minutes of a Board Meeting on March 24, 2017 give you an indication of why they likely hid this lawsuit from the public. One item under “Board Comments” reads, “Mrs. Lichter discussed the school’s ongoing challenges with negative bias of the media…”
This lawsuit was happening at the same time that MCA was attempting to renew their charter, which was set to expire in June 2017, so it would make sense that they would cover up this lawsuit in order to prevent further embarrassment especially if they thought it would impact their chances at renewal of the charter.
This seems theory seems to be further corroborated by the statement released by the MCA Board in 2019 when they referred to their troubles in renewing the charter, “The district tried to non-renew our charter in 2017 after a fake news story appeared in the paper about low interest loan offers being refused – which never happened.”
We do know now that the ‘fake news’ claim was a lie, as there were offers for very low interest rate loans to the school. The main stipulation of those loans being that Kelly Mason Lichter had to resign from the Board in order for the school to receive the funds.
Mrs. Lichter has not failed to mention these offers time and again when she wants to defame the former board member that secured the loans. She likes to call them illegal loans with the goal of illegally removing her from the board. However, there was nothing illegal about the offers or the loans.
But, Kelly couldn’t allow herself to be removed from the Board, as it would be much more difficult for her to sell other school districts on her charter school consulting company if she was no longer associated with MCA. She had to keep this ‘job’. She had to keep ‘control’. She couldn’t allow others to take the school away from her.
As she has stated multiple times….it’s ‘her’ school.
If you want a school of your own….go start one. She’s gone as far as to email multiple parents a link to the state website with information on starting a charter school. This is Kelly’s school….it doesn’t belong to anyone but her and her convicted felon husband Nick.
The point of all of this is that Kelly Lichter and the other members of the Board, which she has securely under control, have made every effort to conceal their actions, as they have been unable to operate this school in the sunshine. Granted, it’s not an easy prospect to operate a school and stay ‘perfect’ in following the laws and regulations that apply to public schools, but there comes a point when you recognize that they are incapable of operating within the law.
That’s when things become really difficult for the school district and the state. On the surface, the school had performed beyond what is required. There are many students and parents that couldn’t be more happy with how this school has progressed.
But, you cannot only focus on the good without looking at the not so good….and the downright criminal. This leadership group…led by Kelly Lichter & David Hull, have also hurt many parents and students.
I’ve continuously heard parents make the statement, “Well, this is a school of choice. If you don’t like it, go elsewhere.” My response, “NO”. School choice does not mean that the school gets to operate with impunity. This is a taxpayer funded public school and there are rules that must be followed. If these people cannot operate within the rules, then they should resign and let other qualified parents come in and do the job.
And no…I’m saying that this school should be turned over to another charter school operator or anything like that. As I’ve said from the beginning, there are parents whose children attend this school that are more than capable of doing a better job than the group currently in charge.
But I am speaking to those that have written me and asked me to leave this leadership group alone. Have you asked Kelly and the Board to resign for the good of the school? If so, what was their response? I know their response….Kelly made it public….she said she wouldn’t allow this school to go on without her in charge and I fully expect that she will do everything she can to scuttle this school before letting anyone else take over.
Well….that’s it for today. If you havent gone over to roguecastaways.com yet and subscribed to our updates…please take a second and do that.
Next week – We’ll explore the secret charter school management company that Kelly, Nick, David Hull, and Gina Smith started and we’ll explore what happened to the one school they convinced they could help. And what that Board had to do to save the school from these people.
Next week on RogueCastaways:Hostile Takeover